Better, Faster, Cheaper

Weaving Innovation into the Fabric of Bureaucracy

When 38 inches of snow buried Boston in 2011, most residents dug out their sidewalks. But no one dug out the fire hydrants so that fire trucks could find them. Today, however, Boston is prepared, courtesy of an innovative program in which citizens can "adopt" a hydrant and agree to be responsible for digging it out in a snowstorm.

That innovation was spawned via the nonprofit Code for America, but today, cities, states and even federal agencies are creating dedicated innovation offices with the goal of weaving innovation into the fabric of bureaucracy. But what do these offices do? And are they doing anything useful? READ MORE

When Public Employees Won’t Budge on Their Benefits

How bad can a school system's finances get? Probably not much worse than Philadelphia's, whose near-perpetual fiscal crisis almost prevented the city's schools from opening on time in each of the last two years. Now a nasty fight over health-insurance costs between the commission that oversees the schools and the city's teachers' union is writing the latest chapter in the nationwide effort to rein in exorbitant public-employee benefits.

The Philadelphia schools' financial problems are longstanding The state took over the system in 2001, and it is currently governed by a School Reform Commission (SRC), three of whose five members are appointed by the governor and two by the mayor. READ MORE

How New Orleans Is Winning a War against Murder

In 2010, New Orleans was suffering not only from the effects of Katrina but also from troubled leadership and raging crime. I remember a conversation with its then-new Mayor, Mitch Landrieu, about innovation in the public workforce in which he emphasized that accountability and the delivery of higher-quality public services needed to come first.

Landrieu believed there was plenty of room for improvement in both of these areas. In 2011, New Orleans had more murders per 100,000 residents than any other city in the country, earning it the title -- not for the first time -- of murder capital of the United States. A U.S. Justice Department investigation of the city's police department had revealed systemic misconduct and discriminatory practices. Yet just two years later, the city saw its lowest number of homicides in 30 years. READ MORE

Data Analytics and the Soup That Made You Sick

For public leaders, it's a familiar conundrum: Many governments are perpetually cash-strapped, but demand for their services never wanes. The rise of predictive analytics gives the public sector a tool to deal with the problem by providing data that allows agencies to deploy their resources more efficiently.

It's been nearly two decades since New York City deployed CompStat to identify where crimes were most likely to occur and inform then-Police Commissioner William Bratton's decisions about where to deploy officers. Predictive analytics have come a long way during that time. READ MORE

Protecting Taxpayers When a Privatization Partner Goes Bust

Last month the company that won a 75-year concession to operate the Indiana Toll Road filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. That's bad news for the company, but not for the road's users. The bankruptcy demonstrates that, if structured correctly, roadway privatization deals can successfully shift risk to the private sector and protect taxpayers.

In 2005, two companies came together to form the Indiana Toll Road Concession Co. (ITRCC), which won the right to operate the toll road in exchange for a $3.8 billion up-front payment. The deal limited how much tolls could rise and included a trigger requiring the consortium to expand the roadway if certain congestion benchmarks were reached. The $3.8 billion threw off about $250 million that was used to fund other state transportation priorities. READ MORE